Sunday, March 20, 2005

News of another surreal week

The Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s were known as the Broad Street Bullies, winning several Stanley Cups with a rough, penalty-filled, (go ahead, say it) vicious style of hockey. (Nostalgia alert: Anyone else remember the Stanley Cup?) The Flyers’ theory was to commit so many penalties the referee look like he was picking on them if he called them all. (I read this in an interview with team captain Bobby Clarke several years ago. I don’t remember where I saw it; read George F. Will if you want research and documentation. He has a staff; I have a job.) The Republicans seem to have adopted the same policy regarding sleaze. Three items head the list this week. I’m sure there were more.

This week in Republican shamelessness hit the ground running when the Bush Administration told the GAO to pound salt after the GAO suggested it might not be legal and ethical to send pre-packaged, fluff, “news” stories to local television stations in the guise of actual news. (The professional standards of the television stations accepting and presenting these stories as unbiased reporting will be addressed another time.) This fell under the “covert propaganda” statutes proscribing such activity. The Bushmen say it’s all right when used for purely informational purposes. My cynical side suggests any information therein will be purely beneficial and flattering to the White House. Anything allowing for doubt or disagreement isn’t likely to be included.

Presenting only one side of a story sounds a lot like media bias. I’ve been busy lately, but isn’t that something conservatives whine about every fifteen seconds on “un-biased” programs like Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Fox News? This looks, quacks, and waddles like another one of those conservative Republican “this is different because we’re in charge” deals.

Page Two. (Sorry, Paul Harvey. I couldn’t resist.) House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has begun a new political action committee named “DeLay and DeNy.” DeLay now has more ethics questions circling him than there are flies around a dead elephant. The Republican leadership has responded by attempting to rewrite existing ethics rules and shoving the changes down the throats of Democrats, refuting of a couple of hundred years’ tradition of bi-partisan approval of ethics changes.

The Dems predictably revolted, effectively shutting down the ethics machinery in the House and playing into Republican hands. Now the GOP can claim the Dems have walked away from their responsibilities. They won’t mention the fact that the proposed rules are so timid that the most recent chairman of the Ethics Committee, a Republican, was replaced over his refusal to go along, apparently believing ethics to be a concept applying to all more or less equally. This may fly with some of their more mouth-breathing constituents, notably in those states where incest laws are considered mere suggestions, but won’t hold up under closer examination.

New rules require all ethics investigation to be concluded in 45 days. This effectively means that the more complicated the alleged offense, the greater the chances it can slip through the cracks. DeLay’s rat’s nest of PACs and fundraisers can barely be recited in 45 days. Multiple parties may now also use the same lawyer, which will make it impossible to get any straight stories, since each individual’s best interests will now equate to those of the group being investigated.

Republicans have already amended their “holier than Dan Rostenkowski” rules requiring House members under indictment to relinquish any committee chairmanships. DeLay isn’t under indictment (yet), but just about everyone he ever had lunch with is. This change could well be called the “DeLay Rule.”

The greatest debasement of our hallowed institutions came in the past few days, as our “leadership” got involved in the Schiavo case in Florida. For anyone even more disconnected with life than I am, Terry Schiavo has been in what doctors call a “persistent vegetative state” for fifteen years. Her parents have been locked in a life-and-death struggle (literally) with her husband over whether her feeding tube should be removed, allowing the rest of her to join her brain in the embrace of the Icy Hand of Death™.

Florida courts and politicians have been on this like a shroud on a corpse, not to rush things. Jeb Bush even got involved, with less success than in the 2000 election. The Florida Supreme Court recently (and supposedly finally) decided to accede to the husband’s wishes and disconnect the tube.

Enter Washington Republicans, stage right. Scandalized by the idea this woman would die if not fed artificially, they decided to pass a law to allow federal courts to intervene. The good news is they apparently have nothing more pressing to do than look into individual cases, now that the troops are home from Iraq, the budget is balanced, and Social Security has been taken care of. Even so, changing a law is something that can’t get done overnight (not until the expedited ethics procedures become more widespread). What do to?

They used the same cleverness that found a way to investigate baseball’s steroid abuses of several years ago after baseball came up with a policy to address the current situation. This week the House subpoenaed Ms. Schiavo to testify in hearings on the pending legislation. She can’t be allowed to die until they’ve finished their spectacle with her. Kafka would be proud.

Senate Majority Leader and former heart surgeon Bill Frist then got into the act. Frist watched a heavily-edited hour of home video shot by Ms. Schiavo’s parents and decided he saw signs of life that had been missed in fifteen years of intensive observation by specialists in disciplines more germane to her situation. (It’s not a heart condition that has her in this state.)

For people so caught up in the wonderfulness of heaven, why won’t these publicity-grubbing bastards just let this poor woman go? God has been calling her home since about 1990; it’s only the infernal machines of man that keep functional the shell she used to live in. This is where the powers that be have taken us, imposing “life” on a woman so her loved ones cannot move on while accepting over 1500 deaths of American troops in the aftermath of removing Weapons of Mass Destruction that weren’t even there. Curiouser and curiouser, as Lewis Carroll would say.

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